While everyone is ‘waisting’ time with smart belts and cat toilets at CES 2019, IBM casually unveiled the world’s first commercially available quantum computer.
The IBM Q System One is the first ever quantum computer that’s been available for use outside of a lab. This entirely new method of computing combines both quantum and traditional computing into a single 20-qubit (quantum bits) system.
If you’ve ever seen those pictures of old giant computers needing to be hauled about by trucks and taking up entire rooms, we’re basically back to that level of technological infancy for quantum computing. The IBM Q certainly isn’t small at 9 foot by 9 foot, about the size of a standard garden shed, but it represents a bold new step for quantum computers.
Shaheryar got into the nitty-gritty of quantum computing in an in-depth article a little while back which is well worth a read, but it boils down to quantum computers offering a radically different kind of computing. They don’t use store data as ones and zeroes but can allow ones and zeroes to exist in the same bit simultaneously. Qubits can be used to perform intensely complex calculations that just aren’t possible today, and will initially find use in AI, pharmaceuticals and financial services.
The IBM Q System One is the first step toward this, with some glaring downsides. Firstly, qubits lose their quantum properties within 100 microseconds, requiring cryogenic engineering to deliver a continuously cold environment, anti-vibration and electromagnetic-free tech, and high precision electronics to control large numbers of qubits. As the first commercial quantum machine, the System One’s 20-qubit capabilities don’t make it overly useful, but it is a stepping stone. IBM does also claim these systems are fully upgradeable once better technology arrives.
“The IBM Q System One is a major step forward in the commercialization of quantum computing,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president of Hybrid Cloud and director of IBM Research. “This new system is critical in expanding quantum computing beyond the walls of the research lab as we work to develop practical quantum applications for business and science.”
Don’t go thinking you’ll be able to go and pick one of these store shelves though. IBM is looking to work with business partners on these devices as there’s still a long way to go until it actually makes financial sense to adopt quantum computing.